Home > Outcomes: drug harms, policy harms, poverty and inequality.

Dillon, Lucy (2016) Outcomes: drug harms, policy harms, poverty and inequality. Drugnet Ireland , Issue 59, Autumn 2016 , pp. 5-6.

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On 28 April 2016, Clondalkin Drug and Alcohol Task Force (CDATF) held a conference on ‘Outcomes: drug harms, policy harms, poverty and inequality’, at which they launched their report of the same name.1 The day brought together 120 delegates and stakeholders, including policy-makers, service providers, service users and other representatives from community, voluntary and statutory agencies.

 

Key findings from the report

Research aims

Key findings from the report were presented by its lead author Dr Aileen O’Gorman of the University of the West of Scotland. The overall aim of the research was to provide an in-depth understanding of: patterns of drug use and drug-related harm in the Clondalkin area; and the needs of individuals, families and members of the broader community. It also set out to explore and identify the relationship between poverty, inequality and drug use, and review the effectiveness of the partnership approach to the coordination and delivery of community-based responses to drug use in the area.

 

Poverty, inequality and policy-related harms

The report described the CDATF area as home to a disproportionate number of people experiencing poverty, with the situation having worsened as a result of political responses to austerity. Some people in the Clondalkin area had been subjected to a range of ‘policy induced harms’ that have put them at a higher risk of experiencing drug-related harms. The authors argued that the current media and political debate tends to pathologise people, groups and communities that experience poverty as an outcome of individual or family dysfunction. Furthermore, that ‘little attention is paid to the role government decisions and policies play in shaping negative life outcomes for people’ (p. 6).

 

Drug trends

Drug use within the area was found to be characterised by polydrug use. The ‘polydrug activity’ tended to involve cannabis and ‘tablets’ (e.g. benzodiazepines and the ‘Z drugs’) combined with alcohol. Cocaine, new psychoactive substances (e.g. mephedrone) and various ‘ecstasy type’ substances were reported to be widely used in ‘recreational settings’. Heroin and crack cocaine were perceived to be used by a small proportion of habitual users in high-risk conditions, and rarely by young people. Whilst the drugs used varied somewhat depending on what was available, there was a general consensus that drugs were widely available in the area.

 

Risk groups for drug-related harms

Four groups living in the area were found to be at particularly high risk of experiencing drug-related harm: 

  • The in-treatment population whose needs were not being met by the range of services available.
  • Family members of those involved in problematic drug use, including children living with parental drug use.
  • Members of the Traveller community.
  • Young people in the area who, given the multiple and interconnected deprivations they experienced, were at risk of becoming users themselves. Furthermore, in the absence of viable employment opportunities they were at risk of becoming involved in the local drugs economy. The study found that this economy provided ‘one of the few employment and economic opportunities for young people, leastways for a time, to access the status and goods that work provides’ (p. 7). The associated violence was an additional risk to which these young people were exposed. 

Changing policy environment and partnership working

The authors found that CDATF operated in a very different policy environment when compared with that in which it had been established. They described a move towards a neo-liberal policy environment in which the centralisation of decision-making had increasingly become the norm. This undermined the way in which the Drug and Alcohol Task Force (DATF) had worked traditionally and caused a shift from working in a community-based bottom-up approach to delivering on the National Drugs Strategy to a ‘hierarchical top-down approach’ (p. 8). They identified two ways in particular in which the community-based interagency and partnership approach had been undermined: first, there were fewer ‘spaces’ (p. 8) for communities and community-based services to input into decision-making; and, secondly, there were ‘extreme levels’ of monitoring, reporting requirements, and effectiveness and value-for-money evaluations.

 

Conclusion

The authors argued that there was a need to review the impact of austerity and reform policies on drug-related harms and the ability of local services and the DATFs to respond to the increased levels of need in their areas. They called for a social inclusion pillar to be included in the National Drugs Strategy, due to commence in 2017, as well as the introduction of drug and poverty proofing for future public and social policies:

 

Drug policy in Ireland has become more focused on addressing individual drug using behaviour as if these issues were context free. Little attention is paid in policy discourses to the underlying issues of poverty and inequality and even less consideration is given to the harmful outcomes of policy. (p. 8)

 

Other presentation themes

Presentations at the conference were also made by:

  • Professor Kathleen Lynch, UCD School of Social Policy, Social Work and Social Justice
  • Professor Susan MacGregor, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine
  • Fr Peter McVerry of the Peter McVerry Trust
  • Pearse Stafford, service user representative 

A number of themes recurred throughout the presentations, including: 

  • Certain sections of society have been disproportionately affected by political austerity measures (in particular young people). This has contributed to a progressively unequal society and an environment in which people are increasingly socially excluded.
  • Drug use does not occur in a vacuum and the social context in which people are living needs to be considered when discussing how best to tackle the issue of problematic drug use in an area. This is challenging in what was described as an increasingly ‘neo-liberal State’.
  • In the absence of ‘legitimate’ employment opportunities in some areas, participating in the drugs economy was perceived to offer young people an opportunity to generate an income and attain standing in their community.
  • There has been an increasing level of violence associated with the drug trade. This was affecting whole communities, not just drug users.
  • There has been a tendency towards less and less meaningful community consultation and engagement in policy development and delivery. There were concerns that this would continue to be the case with the development of the new National Drugs Strategy. 

Throughout the day the report was warmly welcomed by conference delegates; the findings of the report echoed the experiences of those working in other task force areas. In addition, the findings of the report and the conference were to be used to inform the following: CDATF’s forthcoming strategic plan; their submission to the new National Drugs Strategy; and the debate on poverty, inequality and drug-related harm more broadly. The report was cited in Leaders’ Questions in the Dáil on 25 May 2016.2 

 

 

1 O’Gorman A, Driscoll A, Moore K, Roantree D (2016) Outcomes: drug harms, policy harms, poverty and inequality. Dublin: Clondalkin Drug and Alcohol Task Force. https://www.drugsandalcohol.ie/25577/

Adams, G. (2016, 25 May). Dail Eireann debate. Leaders' questions Vol. 910 No. 2.https://www.drugsandalcohol.ie/25560/

Item Type:Article
Issue Title:Issue 59, Autumn 2016
Date:October 2016
Page Range:pp. 5-6
Publisher:Health Research Board
Volume:Issue 59, Autumn 2016
EndNote:View
Subjects:HJ Treatment method > Treatment outcome
MA-ML Social science, culture and community > Social position > Social equality and inequality
MA-ML Social science, culture and community > Social condition > Poverty
MP-MR Policy, planning, economics, work and social services > Policy > Policy on substance use
R Research > Research outcome
VA Geographic area > Europe > Ireland > Dublin

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